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BEIRUT (AFP) – Hezbollah's chief Hassan Nasrallah made a rare public appearance Friday at a Beirut rally held to mark Quds (Jerusalem) Day in support of the Palestinian people, an AFP photographer said.
It was a first appearance in public since last September for Nasrallah, public enemy number one for Israel and a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose troops have been battling an insurgency since 2011.
Nasrallah attended the rally in Rweiss, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, and all roads leading to the neighbourhood were closed to traffic while participants arriving on foot were searched.
Nasrallah, who lives in hiding, spoke from behind a protective pulpit at a hall packed with supporters waving Hezbollah's yellow flag to mark Quds Day, an annual event celebrated in Iran since the country's 1979 Islamic revolution in support of the Palestinians.
In his speech, Nasrallah thanked "Iran and Syria for all they are doing for Palestine and Jerusalem, and for all they have given to resistance movements (fighting Israel) in Lebanon and Palestine".
Iran and Syria are the main backers of Hezbollah, which fought a bloody 33-day war with Israel in Lebanon in 2006.
Nasrallah called for the end of Israel, saying its elimination "is in the interest not only of the Palestinians but the entire Arab and Muslim world".
He also slammed supporters of radical Muslim takfiri movements -- a reference to jihadist Sunni militant groups who have been fighting in Syria alongside other rebels to oust the regime.
Hezbollah, whose fighters have been helping the Syrian army battle rebels in the 28-month conflict, agrees with the Syrian regime view that jihadist fighters are linked to Al-Qaeda who receive support from abroad.
"The states who support them, who push them to the battlefield and incite them to commit murder... are responsible for all the catastrophes and destruction, and are doing Israel and the United States a service," he said.
"We need to be aware of all these dangers and strive as much as we can to solve these crises through internal dialogue, and put a stop to the bloodshed in Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia," Nasrallah added.
Nasrallah's appearance comes less than two weeks after the European Union listed Hezbollah's military wing as a "terrorist" organisation.
It was also his second appearance in less than a year.
Last September he addressed tens of thousands of supporters who took to the streets of southern Beirut to denounce a film mocking Islam and Prophet Mohammad.